History of Science in Early South Asia
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There are no currently scheduled upcoming events.
April 18, 2022
Speaker: Eric Gurevitch, PhD candidate
South Asian Languages and Civilizations and
Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science
University of Chicago
Title: Diseases of the eye: Debating the physiology of vision across medicine and philosophy in medieval India
Abstract: Philosophy mattered in medieval India. Philosophers were employed in royal courts and mediated scholarly life and disputes across sectarian and disciplinary lines. At the heart of philosophic disputes were questions of perception, and these often revolved around the physiology of vision. This presentation examines how philosophers made appeals to medical practices and how medicine was invoked in new contexts. It focuses on two 11th-century scholars who argued for the inadequacy of the standard account of visual extramission as given in philosophic, medical, and literary texts written in Sanskrit. These scholars looked back to 500 years of philosophic disputes as well as to medical practices and argued that the eyeball worked in a very different manner than was often assumed. The presentation aims to tell a more plural history of perception in pre-colonial South Asia and does so by moving across scholarly genres and disciplines. The presentation will be aimed at both generalist and specialist audiences and all are welcomed to join in and participate.
March 21, 2022
Speaker: Dr Cristina Pecchia, Austrian Academy of Sciences (URL)
Title: Gangadhar Ray Kaviraj and the Carakasaṃhitā.
Abstract: Gangadhar Ray (1798–1885) was the editor of the first printed edition of (part of) the Carakasaṃhitā, that appeared in 1868 in Calcutta and seemingly became the basis of several successive editions of the text. His edition of the Carakasaṃhitā and commentary on it, the Jalpakalpataru, can be counted among the important achievements of his scholarly life. The presentation aims to analyse Gangadhar’s philological activity concerning the Carakasaṃhitā, that also represents a piece of traditional scholarship from 19th century South Asia. In the absence of documentary evidence, we will mainly be examining the text of the Carakasaṃhitā transmitted in manuscripts and printed books associated with Gangadhar’s name. We will explore the context made up of texts – in Ganeri’s words the “intertextual context” – that actors involved in this transmission inhabited, we will look at what variants can reveal about philological practice, and reflect on the larger topic of philology in colonial South Asia as a chapter of Indian intellectual history.
February 21, 2022
Speaker: Dr Philipp A. Maas, Associate Professor, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (URL)
Title: The cultural identity and religious orientation of early classical Ayurveda
More than once in the history of Indological research, scholarly opinions regarding the original cultural milieu and religious orientation of Ayurveda have altered. Initially, scholars regarded Ayurveda as an off-shoot of Vedic Brahmanism. In the 90s of the last century, Ken Zysk strongly challenged this view by arguing that Ayurveda’s apparent affiliation to Vedic Brahmanism merely reflects the endeavor of Ayurvedic physicians to create acceptance in a society committed to Vedic norms and values. According to Zysk, ayurvedic medicine was initially developed in Buddhist and cognate ascetic milieus. In 2007, Johannes Bronkhorst advanced Zysk’s line of argument. Bronkhorst hypothesized that the rational-empirical medicine of Ayurveda was a distinctive feature of the culture of Greater Magadha, a region that he identified as Ayurveda’s cultural homeland. In the present reading session, we reconsider Bronkhorst’s hypothesis based on selected passages from the earliest preserved medical Sanskrit compendia, the Carakasaṃhitā (CS) which distinctively reflect physicians’ religious orientations and cultural identity. The session starts with an analysis of the two origin myths of Ayurveda and Rasāyana in CS Sūtrasthāna 1.13–40 and Cikitsāsthāna 1.4.3f. Both passages programmatically position Ayurveda in its contemporary cultural and religious environment by integrating religious ideas that Bronkhorst identified as characteristics of Vedic Brahmanism and the religion of Greater Magadha. Taking into consideration additional textual materials from the CS and Strabo’s Geography, I suggest, however, that the cultural and religious hybridity of the CS does not exclusively result from the Brahminization of medical knowledge of Greater Magadha. Various medical currents of thought merged in the ayurvedic school of Punarvāsu Ātreya to form a specific religious and social group with a distinct identity and worldview. This group mythologically located its region of origin in the mountains of the Himalayas rather than in the cities of greater Magadha.
- CS Sū 1.3–23 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 1–6)
- CS Sū 30.21 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 186)
- CS Sū 30.29 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 189)
- CS Vi 8.54, l. 20–25 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 270)
- CS Ci 1.4.3–4 (ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 387)
- CS Ci 1.4.51–53(ed. Trikamji Acarya, p. 389)
(Sanskrit text edition available at https://archive.org/details/Caraka1941)
Strabon, Geographika 15.1.70; Transl. Bronkhorst, Johannes. Greater Magadha: Studies in the Culture of Early India. Handbuch Der Orientalistik. Abt., Indien 19, 2. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007, p. 78:
"In classifying philosophers, [the writers on India] set the Pramnai (i.e., Śramaṇas) in opposition to the Brachmanes (i.e., Brahmins). [The Pramnai] are captious and fond of cross-questioning; and [they say that] the Brachmanes practice natural philosophy and astronomy, but they are derided by the Pramnai as charlatans and fools. And [they say that] some [philosophers] are called mountain-dwelling, others naked, and others urban and neighbouring, and [the] mountain-dwelling [philosophers] use (i.e., wear) hides of deer and have leather pouches, full of roots and drugs, claiming to practice medicine with sorcery, spells, and amulets."
January 17, 2022
Speaker: Prof. Dominik Wujastyk, University of Alberta
Title: New findings from the Suśruta Project.
Abstract: Exploring the early history of medicine in South Asia through the ninth-century Nepalese recension of the Compendium of Suśruta. We will discuss the rise of the importance of the figure Dhanvantari in the ayurveda tradition. We will also discuss the differences found in the ninth-century treatise when compared with the printed versions of the Compendium as that have informed general knowledge about the work since the late nineteenth century. We will focus on the surgery on the ear and nose, and on the dangers of poison
December 20, 2021
Holiday! No session today.
November 15, 2021
Jacob Schmidt-Madsen, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Copenhagen (URL)
Phañjikā: An Early Cruciform Game at a Late Medieval Indian Court
The cruciform game of caupaṛ, adopted by the British as Ludo in the late 19th century, is often referred to as the national game of India. In the late 16th-century Ain-i-Akbari, the Mughal court historian Abul Fazl wrote that "[f]rom times of old, the people of Hindustan have been fond of this game." The question, however, remains as to how old those "times of old" actually were. The earliest certain references to the game are found in Bhakti poetry and Sufi romances from the late 15th and early 16th centuries, but now a hitherto unexplored chapter from the 12th-century Mānasollāsa adds new evidence. It reveals the existence of what appears to be an elaborate form of the game played at the court of King Someśvara III (r. 1127-38) of the Western Cāḷukya Empire.
This paper traces the early history of caupaṛ and engages with key passages from the chapter on phañjikā, or the game of five, in Mānasollāsa 5.16. It reconstructs the layout and rules of the game as far as possible, and discusses the clearly amorous purposes to which it was put. Phañjikā was primarily played by women and young boys to while away time in the palace, but when the king joined the game it took on the character of a lover's game. The same is true of caupaṛ in later textual and visual sources, thus further closing the gap between the two games.
October 18, 2021
Prof. Emeritus K. G. Zysk, University of Copenhagen (URL)
Topic: Mesopotamian and Indian Bird Omens
This paper explores the relationship between bird omens that occur in both the Sanskrit Gārgīyajyotiṣa Aṅga 42 and the Akkadian Šumma Ālu and related Cuneiform tablets. After an overview of the Sanskrit omens and their source, the study proceeds to compare the Indian and Mesopotamian bird omens with special reference to the omens of the crow in an attempt to show that the Akkadian omens was the archetype of the Sanskrit omen verses. The paper concludes with a list of contents of Aṅga 42, followed by the Sanskrit text and translation of verses 6-29 on the crow.
September 20, 2021
A. J. Misra, Marie Curie Fellow, University of Copenhagen (URL)
Persian Astronomy in Sanskrit: A Comparative Study of Mullā Farīd’s Zīj-i Shāh Jahānī and its Sanskrit Translation in Nityānanda’s Siddhāntasindhu
Starting from the late medieval period of Indian history, Islamicate and Sanskrit astral sciences exchanged ideas in complex discourses shaped by the power struggles of language, culture, and identity. The practice of translation played a vital role in transporting science across the physical and mental realms of an ever-changing society. The present study begins by looking at the culture of translating astronomy in late-medieval and early-modern India. This provides the historical context to then examine the language with which Nityānanda, a seventeenth-century Hindu astronomer at the Mughal court of Emperor Shāh Jahān, translated into Sanskrit the Persian astronomical text of his Muslim colleague Mullā Farīd. Nityānanda's work is an example of how secular innovation and sacred tradition expressed themselves in Sanskrit astral sciences.
This article includes a comparative description of the contents in the second discourse of Mullā Farīd's Zīj-i Shāh Jahānī (c. 1629/30) and the second part of Nityānanda's Siddhantasindhu (c. early 1630s), along with a critical examination of the sixth chapter from both these works. The chapter-titles and the contents of the sixth chapter in Persian and Sanskrit are edited and translated into English for the very first time. The focus of this study is to highlight the linguistic (syntactic, semantic, and communicative) aspects in Nityānanda's Sanskrit translation of Mullā Farīd's Persian text. The mathematics of the chapter is discussed in a forthcoming publication. An indexed glossary of technical terms from the edited Persian and Sanskrit text is appended at the end of the work.
My paper on Persian Astronomy in Sanskrit is downloadable below.
April 19, 2021
- Presenter: Dagmar Wujastyk, University of Alberta
- Topic: Readings from the Kalyāṇakāraka of Ugrāditya (fl. ca. 800 CE), a Jain work on medicine and alchemy.
March 15, 2021
- Presenter: Andrey Klebanov, Kyōto University
- Topic: Readings from the anonymous *Suśrutavyākhyā
- Files to be used during the reading session (I will also show them on screen):
- Further Bibliography and Links:
- Klebanov, Andrey. “On the Textual History of the Suśrutasaṃhitā, (2): An Anonymous Commentary and Its Identified Citations.” In Body and Cosmos. Sudies in Early Indian Medical and Astral Sciences in Honor of Kenneth G. Zysk, edited by Toke Lindegaard Knudsen, Jacob Schmidt-Madsen, and Sara Speyer, 110–39. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2021. PDF,
- Klebanov, Andrey. “On the Textual History of the Suśrutasaṃhitā (1): A Study of Three Nepalese Manuscripts.” eJournal of Indian Medicine 12, no. 1 (2021): 1–64, https://doi.org/10.21827/ejim.12.1.37385 (open access),
- Suśrutasaṃhitā, Sū 15, e-text on SARIT,
- Link to the Suśrutavyākhyā at PanditProject.
Andrey Klebanov is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, University of Vienna, Austria. Klebanov has published on the history of Indian medicine and the history of medieval literary commentaries, with a focus on the use of manuscript sources.
Dominik Wujastyk is Professor and Singhmar Chair of Classical Indian Society and Polity, Dept. of History and Classics, University of Alberta, Canada. Previous appointments include a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship at the Wellcome Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London. Wujastyk has taught and published on the history of science and medicine in ancient India and on Indian manuscripts and codicology . Recent work has included research on the history of classical Indian medicine, yoga and alchemy. He is the Principal Investigator of the recently launched Suśruta Project
Kenneth Zysk is Emeritus Professor of Indology and Indian Science, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Zysk has taught and published extensively on the history of science and medicine in ancient India. Recent projects include work on the history of medicine and medical theory in early India with a view to cross-cultural influences and on early forms of augury and prophecy in Indian astral science, with a focus on manuscript sources.